Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Beethoven: Malevolent or Merry-Maker?

  Now, I don’t know what Ayn Rand’s basis was for claiming Beethoven to be “malevolent” in his sense of life, what pieces she was referring to, or what she had even heard. But what I find funny is the backlash against her for even thinking it. Some people act as if she had just said the sky was green or whales lay eggs. But was she REALLY that far off? It’s not as if she was the only person ever to make this claim. I remember learning about him in grade school music class, and the overriding impression, YEARS before I’d hear about Ayn Rand, was that he was a “moody” type of guy. Even better; we had to do a drawing of what we heard, and I drew a picture of Beethoven fist-fighting…

  So I wasn’t so surprised by Rand’s statement, and didn’t even question it. But after hearing the Objectivistic ho-ha over the brou-ha-ha, I looked a little further into it. The book Classical Music In America referenced Beethoven’s music as “dark and moody.” I’m sure other texts do, as well. But what was even MORE interesting was to read Beethoven’s own words on the matter:

"O ye men who accuse me of being malevolent, stubborn and
misanthropical, how ye wrong me! Ye know not the secret
cause. Ever since childhood my heart and mind were disposed
toward feelings of gentleness and goodwill, and I was eager
to accomplish great deeds; but consider this: for six years
I have been hopelessly ill, aggravated and cheated by quacks in
the hope of improvement but finally compelled to face a lasting
malady ... I was forced to isolate myself. I was misunderstood
and rudely repulsed because I was as yet unable to say to people,
"Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf" ... With joy I hasten to meet
death. Despite my hard fate ... I shall wish that it had come later;
but I am content, for he shall free me of constant suffering. Come
then, Death, and I shall face thee with courage." Heiglnstadt (sic)
6 October, 1802.

 It’s obvious that Beethoven disagreed with this assessment, but note that he was responding to the exact same epitaph used by Rand from his contemporary critics: “Malevolent.” So it’s not as if Rand pulled the claim “out of her ass.” Like a child who sees Santa Claus, there was SOMETHING going on, even if it’s just a man in a suit or a composer in a state of righteous anger. But Beethoven’s own words give credence to the claim of holding to a “Byronic” view of his own existence, condemned to struggle despite the inevitability of defeat. One can argue whether or not he was justified, but one cannot argue that their was something there to at least warrant the claim. 

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